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New grant projects advance energy & equity in the Twin Cities

Energy justice aims to achieve equity in both the social and economic participation of communities in the energy system. Last fall, the Institute on the Environment and Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center hosted “Energy and Equity in the Twin Cities,” a 4-part workshop that aimed to create pathways to energy justice via cross-sector collaborations.  

Invited participants represented neighborhood associations, community-based organizations, justice and advocacy-focused NGOs, housing groups, equity-focused renewable energy developers, utilities, government, and academia. Together, they worked to establish a shared understanding of energy justice and the actions required to build it.

To keep the momentum going, the workshop culminated in participants developing grant projects that address different aspects of energy justice in the Twin Cities, with five awarded up to $10,000 in funding.  

Meet the winners and learn how they’re taking vital steps toward change:

Energy and Housing Justice Convenings
The project team aims to amplify connections between the movements for energy and housing justice, activate their most powerful intersections, and thereby support integrated efforts. They will do this by working with housing and energy justice practitioners to co-develop two convenings that will: foster relationships, build a common knowledge base, illustrate intersections between movements, and build the foundation for coalition work. Because systemic change becomes more possible when energy and housing are framed and understood as human rights, the convenings will focus on centering them as such. 

Team members: Michelle Wenderlich (independent scholar and community organizer), Julia Nerbonne (Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light), Leslie Moore (activist, organizer, research analyst), Annika Brindel (National Housing Trust), Ellie Leonardsmith (West Side Community Organization), Linda Kingery (NW RSDP), Mari Ojeda (Fresh Energy), Metric Giles (Community Stabilization Project)

Energy Experience Center at the RATC
Many inner-city residents and low-income neighborhoods lack awareness of how the energy system works and the role that it plays in their lives. They also typically lack access to career pathways and other opportunities emerging from the transition to a clean energy economy. Furthermore, existing programs targeted at delivering specific needs for an equitable transition to green energy transition aren’t integrated into these communities. 

In response, the project team will create a framework for a new Energy Experience Center, which will support year-round programming and opportunities among low-income and BIPOC residents for education, training, and community connection related to energy. The framework, which will be replicable and developed to support a prototype model at one or two locations, will address the physical space, educational partners, programming goals, and opportunities for community storytelling.  

Team members: Jamez Staples (REP), Michael Krause (Kandiyo Consulting, REP), Joel Haskard (CERTs), Peter Lindstrom (CERTs), Kyle Samejima (Minneapolis Climate Action), Dr. Michael Wulf (MN STEM Partnership)

Energy Navigator Landscape Assessment
Research shows that with the right policies and practices, state and local governments and utility companies can eliminate many of the barriers preventing low-income households from accessing energy efficiency programs and services (with the ultimate goal of addressing energy insecurity and reducing households’ energy use and burden). 

This project seeks to identify effective outreach methods and program approaches to support the development, integration, and piloting of a proactive “energy navigators” program that leverages the successes and best practices of existing programs while expanding efforts to reach more households and communities. To do so, team members will conduct a landscape analysis that: inventories existing efforts consistent with the energy navigator approach; identifies current program gaps and barriers to implementation (e.g., existing service providers face outreach barriers); and articulates the expected (or perceived) impact of each navigator program’s approach. 

Team members: Elise Harrington (project co-lead; UMN Humphrey Schoo;), Carmen Carruthers (project co-lead; Citizens Utility Board Minnesota), Bill Grant (MinnCAP), John-Michael Cross (Environmental and Energy Study Institute), Lissa Pawlisch (UMN, RSDP, CERTs), Nick Martin (Xcel Energy)

Solar for Schools Programming
The project team aims to build on existing efforts to engage and develop student leaders in energy, build on existing efforts to collect and deploy solar curriculum in schools across Minnesota, and learn from examples of success. It will do this by supporting implementers of Minnesota’s Solar for Schools program, which stimulates the installation of solar energy systems at public schools and the integration of renewable energy use into school curricula. 

Specifically, the project team will offer support in meeting legislative requirements, building solar curricula plans, and implementing the installation of solar projects by: conducting a needs assessment for participants of Solar for Schools; coordinating and engaging student interns and research assistants in developing new teaching material; working with college students to host convenings with MIGIZI students about the program; and training K-8/12 students in videography and solar energy in order to help develop videos targeted at their peers. In addition, the project team will package project materials in accessible formats and host them on CERTs/Dept of Commerce web page on Solar for Schools.

Team members: Gabe Chan (UMN), Michelle Gransee (Minnesota Dept. of Commerce), Joel Haskard (CERTs), Diana Dalbotten (UMN), Katie Pratt (EQB), Kerry Wang (MIGIZI), Melissa Olson (MIGIZI), Bob Blake (Native Sun)

Vital Energy Educational Gatherings
The project team aims to help community members acquire the wisdom to be able to know their position within the energy system. It will do this by educating them through an artistic lens and focusing on community relations. As part of the project, team members will organize a set of virtual educational gatherings centered on storytelling, during which national speakers will share about their relationships to energy. Energy navigators also will activate and inform community members on how to engage in energy and utility proceedings. The project team will also arrange a set of research-based quantitative data that will uncover or map the impact of our energy systems on communities, create a publicly accessible drive with individuals stories related to energy usage and their relationship with energy systems, and display an innovative relationship between storytelling, artistic visuals, and energy systems by creating a booklet about the project.

Team members: Sebastian Rivera, Kyle Samejima (Minnesota Climate Action), Tanessa Lewis (Fredrikson & Byron), Ben Werner, Nathan Twardock (Engineers Without Borders USA), Jimmy Patino (UMN), East Side Freedom Library, and a coalition of local community artists

Project summaries are based on information submitted by the project teams.

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